Oct 31 2006

IT Leadership Awards II

Stephen Laster of Babson College helped drive a distance learning initiative that extended and accelerated the learning experience for students, creating more dynamic online course content.

Stephen Laster of Babson College helped drive a distance learning initiative that extended and accelerated the learning experience for students, creating more dynamic online course content.

IN NOVEMBER 2005, we posed the following challenge to our readers as part of our IT Leadership Awards:

The Challenge

Are you breaking new ground in using information technology to improve instruction and student service at your institution? Ed Tech: Focus on Higher Education is looking to celebrate technology revolutionaries who are changing how their institutions fulfill their educational and student service missions.

Please send a 500-word description of how your school is leveraging technology tools to improve student service and educational outcomes. Or feel free to create a hypothetical example of how you might revolutionize your campus with technology.

Based on the high number of entries, we divided the entrants into three categories – public institution, private institution and community college. A panel of judges from Duke University awarded the private institution Pedagogy & IT Practice award to Stephen Laster, director of the Curriculum Innovation and Technology Group at Babson College, in Babson Park, Mass. As director of CITG, he is the principal educational technology architect of Babson's highly integrated undergraduate, graduate and executive education curricula. Laster will receive a $2,000 shopping spree at www.cdwg.com for his institution. His entry follows.

Fast Track MBA

Babson College is a consistent leader in providing entrepreneurs with the tools to drive innovation. This focus on entrepreneurial innovation extends to the classroom, where the institution uses a blended learning environment to accelerate the delivery of course content. Depending on course content, the delivery blend may consist of any combination of face-to-face class instruction, asynchronous discussion board forums and synchronous distance sessions over the Internet.

Babson's Fast Track MBA is a perfect example of Babson's blended learning model. Fast Track MBA is a 24-month program that is taught 60 percent online and 40 percent face to face.

The distance learning portion is approximately 18 to 22 hours per week. Face-to-face instruction sessions are held approximately every six weeks.

The Fast Track curriculum incorporates case studies, in-person and Web-based discussions, and field-based projects. Its central, unifying theme is entrepreneurial leadership in a changing global environment.

Accelerating the Fast Track

The technology-based distance learning components reinforce Fast Track's dynamic focus, extending and accelerating the learning experience. Using a combination of outstanding content and Blackboard as Babson's learning management system, the school is able to encourage communication between students and faculty, and professors can quickly disseminate course materials to participants.

Beyond disseminating information, however, the faculty also needed a forum to initiate a high-quality case discussion to draw out ideas, punctuate key points and provide students with enough context to set direction without limiting creative thinking. In a traditional classroom, this is done through a group discussion. In an online classroom, Babson realized that faculty could integrate Blackboard, Elluminate and Adobe Breeze for this same requirement.

Within the Breeze Presenter format, faculty can use content from their desktop PCs to initiate discussions. Once students are engaged, professors can steer discussions asynchronously on Blackboard or in real time with Elluminate.

Using Elluminate, students can interact verbally, visually or within a messaging window. Moreover, students can call up content from their own desktops and present it to the class to amplify the value of the discourse. The result is a distance learning platform with broader content and interaction management capability than the traditional classroom environment.

In addition, Babson's Breeze Presenter allows faculty to create content presentations for students to review on their own schedules. A faculty member can use PowerPoint to create the feedback slides for either a group assignment or an overall class wrap-up. The professor then uses Adobe Breeze to add audio, set midcourse learning checkpoints and publish in a Web-friendly format. At that point, the professor uploads a Zip package to the Blackboard site, and students can access it with a click.

The student responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Students feel connected and in touch with the faculty even though they don't see them.

Down the Road

Babson is now refining a content development methodology called “Model Driven Design” to help drive down the cost of online content authoring. Babson believes that in order to really move blended learning and online learning forward, the college needs to address the high cost of developing high-quality, interactive content.

About Stephen Laster

What's your background?

Prior to assuming my current role as the primary architect for Babson's learning technology environment, I served as chief technology officer for Babson Interactive, Babson's for-profit distance learning start-up, and as leader of Babson's Systems Integration team.

Why did you get into IT?

There is nothing more exciting than taking a teaching or business problem and crafting a technological solution that truly improves the way people work and collaborate.

What do you see as the biggest technology challenge in higher education right now?

Driving down the cost of technical innovation. We are at an interesting crossroad where we have just created the mass digital printing press and digital public commons. We have an obligation to work together to drive standards so that the technology costs go down and so that we can focus on driving quality and access to education for all.

What technology project are you most proud of?

It is not so much one project as it is my current CITG and Fast Track teams. I work with some of the most talented and creative folks who together have developed an outstanding e-learning infrastructure, learning content and blended MBA curriculum.

What does your school do that is unique from a technology perspective?

Both in academic and administrative technology, we have woven together many point solutions to make a seamless environment.

What's your next planned project?

We are working with the SCORM protocol to develop an environment where we can collect learner-attempt data so that we can explore the effectiveness of the learning content. Our goal is a continuous feedback environment so that we can continue to move the quality of our learning interactions forward.

What makes your school a great place to work?

The people. Babson supports and encourages educated risk taking. As a community, we practice entrepreneurship in its finest form. As a result, we are able to create positive change, take risks and move the state of business education forward.